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The world’s largest yogurt factory is about to get bigger in the picturesque southern Idaho town of Twin Falls.

Chobani, the maker of Greek yogurt, has announced it is building a $21 million research center to accompany its existing facility already employing about 1,000 people. Chobani is the latest in a series of food manufacturers to locate or expand in Twin Falls, which is about 200 miles northwest of Salt Lake City in the high desert.

“People thought I was crazy. But I was very sure, and looking back it was the best decision I ever made,” said Hamdi Ulukaya, the company’s founder and CEO. “It was a no-brainer for me.”

Chobani first opened in Twin Falls in 2012, making a $750 million investment in the community that has long been known for its agricultural heritage and hard-working residents. In a city of fewer than 50,000 people, that’s a big deal. (For context, there are about 400,000 dairy cows in the area.)

“We often refer to Chobani as the gift that keeps on giving here in Twin Falls,” Mayor Shawn Barigar said. “To see them continue grow is very exciting.”

Ulukaya said building and opening the first plant required extensive community training so the company could hire qualified local workers. Now, he said, that workforce is helping support other food companies in the area, including the maker of Clif Bars.

Chobani’s direct and indirect employment in the area support about 7,000 jobs, and the area’s reputation for quality workers who know how to work with food is spreading, Barigar said

Idaho’s unemployment rate has dropped from 6.3% to 2.4% since Chobani arrived in Twin Falls, and the company has worked with government-run refugee centers to hire about 300 displaced people who have been resettled in the area.

The company’s public support for refugees drew heavy scrutiny from alt-right and right-wing media organizations that last summer suggested Chobani and the Turkish-born Ulukaya were at the heart of a conspiracy involving child sex assaults and tuberculosis infections.

Chobani brought and settled a defamation lawsuit against a vocal proponent of that theory, and Ulukaya now wants to keep the focus on the success of Twin Falls: “It’s becoming a Silicon Valley of food,” he said.

 

 

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